What the Hell Happened? How Trump Outbranded Hillary

A week after the shocking outcome of the election, where everyone I know is saying “What the Hell happened?” I took some time to reflect on the why and try to make sense of this. How did I not see it coming? I should have.

I think it all comes down to a glaring difference in the brand strategy of the two candidates.

The things that worked for Trump are the same things that work for company brands.

Know your audience

Trump had this nailed from day 1. He knew exactly whom he was speaking to. His main audience of blue collar working class people identified with and felt heard through Trump. He verbalized their anger and disappointment with big government that favors the rich with his own anger. Even his temperamental behavior worked in his favor. Oddly, he is part of that group, but even that didn’t matter. All he had to do was keep saying he would fix it. And they bought it.


Take a brand stand

Trump had his brand together right from the get-go. Never mind that Reagan used it first. Another tip: borrow from other successes. His tagline “Make America great again” gave people something to latch on to. He nailed it with that. We saw a sea of red hats with that slogan on it at every rally. It was parodied everywhere and instantly recognizable. He repeated it over and over again. Who doesn’t want a great America?


Never waffle

Hillary’s tagline changed 3 times during her campaign, which made her stance fuzzy—a critical mistake in branding. Ask anyone what she stood for, and you’ll get many answers. Brands need to evoke a feeling to work. For an election like this, it had to be very powerful.

  1. I’m with her? That one points out her gender, which may have cost her, was me-focused and didn’t say anything about her mission. That one attempted solidarity but missed the mark when it comes to building a brand. If she had a brand statement that people could feel strongly about it would have made a difference.
  2. Love Trumps hate? That put her competitor’s name all over her own campaign! A huge mistake and never a good strategy in branding. And it felt defensive too.
  3. And her final one “Stronger together” It just came too late and simply wasn’t as powerful as Trump’s. It seemed like a reaction rather than a position, and didn’t feel authentic.

Keep it simple

Trump kept his message simple and clear. He never wavered. Like it or not, we all knew where he stood—an excellent verbal brand strategy.

He was also a master of the sound bite. His vocabulary was not politically correct like everyone else’s (Except Bernie), uncomplicated and he spoke in 6th grade language. He said things like “Crooked Hillary” so many times it was burned in people’s minds.

Hillary never went for the jugular like that.

Borrow from the best

reagan-trump-taglineTrump borrowed (a lot) from Reagan, a wildly popular President. Even his slogan was originally Reagan’s. But nobody cared.

Read about designing Obama: how a font may have won an election

Be authentic

Trump was direct, unlike most politicians and was always himself. That resonated with a lot of people, was a signature of his brand and people got it. Bernie had the same down to earth verbal branding and won a lot of hearts. He never talked over people, though he used bigger words.

Hillary’s experience probably worked against her.

People voted for a candidate with no political experience at all—and proud of it! That tells me they wanted something different, not a charter member of the “political machine”.

They associated Hillary with the Washington that they felt let them down and fueled enormous anger. Being an insider was her brand, but not the one people ultimately wanted. The more she talked about it, the worse it made it for her.

So, lessons learned.

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